Photo Courtesy of KQ Entertainment
5 Rising Korean Artists To Know Now: STAYC, ENHYPEN, ITZY, TOMORROW X TOGETHER & ATEEZ
To celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, GRAMMY.com is spotlighting five fast-emerging Korean groups who have the potential to dominate the global pop space
Thanks to the passion of their fandoms, their social media dominance, their addictive hooks and melodies, and their eye-catching visuals, K-pop groups are inescapable these days, and South Korea, the motherland of these global pop acts, has since become a key pop culture epicenter. Korean groups like BTS have gone on to break records previously held by icons like the Beatles and earned a history-making nomination at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, while groups like BLACKPINK have collaborated with huge stars like Selena Gomez and Cardi B while breaking YouTube streaming records along the way.
The latest wave of K-pop idols, usually referred to as the fourth generation, is native to the digital age, with an audience more open to international talent, in part due to the success of their predecessors.
To celebrate AAPI Heritage Month 2021, GRAMMY.com is spotlighting five fast-emerging Korean groups that have the potential to dominate the global pop space. Get to know STAYC, ENHYPEN , ITZY, TOMORROW X TOGETHER, and ATEEZ.
STAYC, an acronym for Star To A Young Culture, is a new six member girl group with enormous potential. Debuting in November 2020 under High Up Entertainment, STAYC are leading newly launched girl groups in album sales despite having limited projects so far and being represented by a smaller company. The group's success is due in part to the release of YouTube videos pre-debut, when the members were known as the High Up Girls and recorded dance and vocal covers from artists like BTS, BLACKPINK and TWICE.
Their debut song, "So Bad," garnered more than 2.6 million views in the first 24 hours. With their second single album Staydom, released in April, they became the first 2020 rookie girl group to sell over 50,000 copies from a single album. Under the helm of producing duo Black Eyed Pilseung, who worked on numerous hits like TWICE's "Fancy" and "TT," it's no surprise the girls' feel good music is making its mark on the industry. The Teen Fresh concept (youthful and cute) they're promoting is perfect for the upcoming summer and sure to bring more bops and fans galore.
Arguably one of the most exciting groups to enter the K-pop scene in recent years, ENHYPEN are a force to be reckoned with in pop music today. The fresh faced boys dominated 2020 rookie group sales records after forming on a competition show called "I-Land." Some members were once trainees under HYBE, but their parent company is Belift Lab, a joint venture between HYBE and CJ ENM.
Read: Meet ENHYPEN, K-Pop's Latest Breakout Boy Group
The group is now making their own mark with complex storytelling, strong vocals, and eye-catching choreography, while the members' ages range from just 15-19 and their home countries are as diverse as Australia and Japan. Their latest release, BORDER: CARNIVAL, continues their introspective world-building that's bound to grow more complex and interesting as time goes on. Notoriously dubbed "monster rookies," the septet shows no signs of slowing down.
Something about ITZY is truly magnetic and exactly what the K-pop industry needs. The JYP Entertainment girl group is a five member powerhouse of sass, confidence and fun that arrived on the scene in 2019. With a captivating teen crush sound with themes of self-love and independence, they're also Maybelline's first K-pop Global Spokesmodels.
Their latest release, with leading single "In the Morning," became their fastest video to reach 100 million views. They also recently joined BLACKPINK as the only Korean girl groups to reach the Canadian Hot 100 more than once. With so many feats accomplished within their first two years, there's no telling where the vibrant act's headed next. Whether they go viral for an impressive shoulder shimmy or an iconic fashion look, the group's addictive discography and charismatic personas allude to global pop stardom.
TOMORROW X TOGETHER
Often touted as the leaders of the fourth generation of K-pop, TXT are the second group to debut under HYBE after industry heavyweights BTS. Since their first release in 2019, the group of five have dipped in countless genres and now participate in producing and songwriting for their music. Their last EP, minisode: Blue Hour, was an emotional collection of songs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic from a young person's lens, and debuted at No. 25 on the US Billboard 200.
More: TOMORROW X TOGETHER On How Their New 'minisode1 : Blue Hour' EP Marks The Beginning Of A New Era
Their entire discography is poetic and relatable for Gen-Z, earning them spots on magazine covers like Elite Daily and Teen Vogue. With their second studio album due at the end of May, they're bound to invite attention as they enter a new era of their musical careers. The group's rare ability to tackle topics both relevant and enticing for a diverse audience make their rise to international success well deserved.
Though they debuted in late 2018 under KQ Entertainment, ATEEZ have consistently grown their fanbase with every release. They're currently competing on "Kingdom: Legendary War," a Korean competition show for trending K-pop boy groups. The group was the fifth most tweeted about musicians in 2020, and are known for their dramatic and captivating dance performances and rap-heavy songs. Capturing international attention since their inception, the eight-member group are a fresh breakout that serves up new experimental sounds at each turn.
Related: Exclusive: ATEEZ Are Here To Win The Hearts Of K-Pop Fans
Their last release, Zero: Fever Part 2, dropped in March, hit No. 8 on Billboard's World Albums chart. Another group outside of the historic Big 3 K-pop companies, ATEEZ boasts an underdog story with a fresh and singular musical direction that fans appreciate. With the inspiring motto, "8 makes 1 team", the group have battled injuries, mental health issues, and other challenges without shying away from their dedicated fanbase. With loyalty like that, they're definitely in the game for the long run.
Listen: Celebrate AAPI Month 2021 With This Playlist Featuring Artists Of Asian & Pacific Islander Descent
Photo: Michito Goto
Global Spin: Japanese Rock Band MAN WITH A MISSION Tear Up The Stage With An Electric Performance Of "Fly Again"
The half-man, half-wolf Japanese metal band MAN WITH A MISSION throw down on stage in this live performance of "Fly Again," a track from their 2011 self-titled album.
Japanese rockers MAN WITH A MISSION don't reveal their aesthetic in dribs and drabs; within mere seconds, you know what they're all about. And that's getting hyped — in the wolfiest of ways.*
Donning their signature canine headgear, the heavy Japanese collective gets throngs of disciples turnt up as they absolutely lay into a rendition of "Fly Again." The feeling is so new/ Believe in what you do," goes one verse. "Don't you ever be afraid in losing/ That's the clue." A wolf's creed indeed!
In this episode of Global Spin, raise a glass to AAPI month with this hair-raising live performance by a group at the vanguard of Japanese heaviness. And if you'd like to join the thrilled masses in this video, MAN WITH A MISSION are in the midst of a North American tour.
Enjoy MAN WITH A MISSION's electrifying performance of "Fly Again" above, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of Global Spin.
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pHOTOS: RYAN LIMAFP via Getty Images,David Talukdar/NurPhoto via Getty Images, Prabhas Roy/Hindustan Times via Getty Images, Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images, SUJIT JAISWALAFP via Getty Images
5 Bollywood Stars To Discover: Shreya Ghoshal, Badshah & Others
A new generation of Bollywood singers and composers are bringing a fresh approach to the music, embedding their creations with influences from hip-hop and electronica, and fusing Indian folk and classical traditions with the pop mainstream.
For many decades, the lush soundscapes of Indian film music were dominated by a select group of singing legends: from Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle to Hemant Kumar, Mukesh and Mohammed Rafi. A change of the guard was inevitable, and it began during the last years of the 20th century.
As the film industry in India became more globalized and diversified, and reality shows opened up doors for young performers, it was only natural that talented playback singers — the actual performers recording vocals that are later mimed by the actors — would appear in all corners of the vast country.
The Bollywood standards that captivated the imagination of millions from the ‘50s to the ‘90s are still timeless. But a new generation of singers and composers are bringing a fresh approach to the music known as filmi — embedding their creations with influences from hip-hop and electronica, and fusing Indian folk and classical traditions with the pop mainstream.
Here are five young stars of Bollywood music who are ready to be discovered by the rest of the world.
One listen to “Kesariya,” the lilting ballad from the 2022 fantasy blockbuster Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva is enough to understand why 36-year-old singer and composer Arijit Singh has been the most streamed Indian artist on Spotify for the past three consecutive years. Singh’s velvety inflections demonstrate the influence of mainstream pop, while remaining faithful to the film masters that he grew up listening to — particularly golden era maestro Kishore Kumar.
Born in West Bengal, Singh was raised in a musical family. Everybody sang around him in childhood, and he was also exposed to both Western and Bengali classical music. Singh has been criticized for lending his voice to too many Bollywood productions, but a prolific output has defined playback singers since the very beginning of India’s movie industry. His association with composer Pritam is already legendary. This year, the team delivered an instant classic: the atmospheric “O Bedardeya,” from the romantic comedy Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar.
This 34-year-old vocalist from the northern city of Rishikesh (also where the Beatles studied meditation with the Maharishi in 1967) wasn’t alone on her path to Bollywood stardom. Neha is the youngest sister of playback singers Tony and Sonu Kakkar, and the entire family initially moved to Delhi in order to further their musical careers. At 16, Neha was a contestant in the second season of the reality show "Indian Idol," but was eliminated early — she would return to the show as judge, and gain notoriety for her empathetic reactions to the performances of aspiring stars.
In 2014, she collaborated with famed music director Amir Trivedi on the rambunctious “London Thumkada,” which accompanies an unforgettable wedding scene in the award-winning film Queen, about a young woman’s path to personal freedom. Since then, the self-taught Kakkar has recorded a number of soulful duets for Bollywood productions. In 2020, the groovy “Dil Ko Karaar Aaya” became one of her biggest hits.
It makes sense that the integration of hip-hop into the Indian music mainstream would generate some controversy, and the wild success of rapper and film producer Banshah has polarized critics.
Born in Delhi, Badshah studied civil engineering before turning into music full time. In 2020, his smash duet “Genda Phool” (Marigold Flower) with playback singer Payal Dev was met with hostility by the Indian press because it openly lifted lines from a classic Bengali folk tune. Badshah’s musical ambition, knack for bouncy beats and clever rhymes has transcended his critics. He continues to enrich filmi music with rap and novel ideas: Check out the darkly hued, sinuous melodic lines of “Bad Boy,” which he contributed to Saaho, the second highest grossing Bollywood film of 2019.
Growing up in Panipat, a city north of Delhi, Asees Kaur obsessively studied cassette tapes of Gurbani — the compositions of Sikh Gurus. It is not surprising that the 34-year-old playback singer’s best Bollywood moments are infused with a subtle spiritual vibe, a benign tranquility.
Her first big hit was “Bolna,” a duet from the 2016 family drama Kapoor & Sons. She recorded her vocals separately, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the finished product also involved the voice of Anijit Singh. Kaur’s popularity skyrocketed in 2021 with “Raaraan Lambiyan,” the moving opening track to the Shershaah soundtrack — a stirring war biopic.
At 39, Shreya Ghoshal is already a legend among contemporary playback singers — her prodigious output and notorious versatility providing a link to the golden era of Indian cinema. Tonally, Ghoshal also evokes the spell of singing icon Lata Mangeshkar, one of her greatest influences.
Classically trained in Hindustani music, Ghoshal was a teenager when she won the reality show "Sa Re Ga Ma," attracting the attention of the film industry. Her auspicious debut as playback singer happened on the 2002 romantic drama Devdas, one of the quintessential Indian films of the past three decades. Mimed by actress Aishwarya Rai, the song “Silsila Ye Chahat Ka” made for a spectacular dancing sequence with lavish wardrobe and sets. Ghoshal's honeyed soprano has served her well, with a gallery of hits that includes recent tracks such as the gorgeous “Pal,” a duet with Arijit Singh from the 2018 film Jalebi.
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Photos: Chris Saucedo/Getty Images for SXSW; Robert Okine/Getty Images; Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella; Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images; Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
5 Artists Showing The Future Of AAPI Representation In Rap: Audrey Nuna, TiaCorine & More
A growing number of Asian American and Pacific Islander artists are exploring how hip-hop can help them meaningfully express their multiculturalism — and they're being embraced for doing so.
Is it possible for an Asian American rapper to achieve widespread commercial success? In the 2016 documentary Bad Rap, no one could be too sure.
At that point, some firsts for the community turned out to be false starts: In the ‘90s, Mountain Brothers was the first Asian American rap group to sign to a major label, but left just two years later. In the early aughts, MC Jin lost critical career momentum he gained from his impressive winning streak on "106 & Park’s" Freestyle Fridays, when Ruff Ryders delayed his debut album release by more than a year. As Miley Cyrus sparked a national conversation about cultural appropriation in hip-hop, Bad Rap’s subjects faced questions regarding whether they’re just as guilty as Cyrus, or whether their music was helping break the “model minority” stereotype.
Since then, hip-hop, a Black music tradition, has spawned countless global scenes, bringing contemporary rap across the Pacific and beyond. Rap taking hold in Asia can still seem contentious, whether dissecting K-pop's use of the genre or revisiting the viral songs that landed Awkwafina in Bad Rap. But, there is also a growing number of artists who are figuring out how hip-hop can help them meaningfully express and explore their multiculturalism — and are being embraced by the music industry for doing so.
In 2013, Kanye West’s jarring Yeezus changed Audrey Nuna’s music tastes for good, encouraging her to check out hip-hop artists like A Tribe Called Quest and MF DOOM. From there, she "started making what I wanted to hear," as she told Pigeons and Planes.
Nuna prefers to call herself a singer, to better reflect the stylistic versatility throughout her 2021 debut a liquid breakfast. Still, the "Robitussin flow" in "Comic Sans" is undeniable — to where Jack Harlow responded to her cold email and hopped on the song’s remix.
The making of a liquid breakfast made Nuna realize that she never has to search far to find inspiration. On "Blossom," Nuna’s grandmother laughs as she tells her about how, while fleeing the Korean War, she woke up from a nap on the migrant trail to find that her travel group — including her family — accidentally left her behind.
In the future, Nuna hopes to feature more Korean instrumentation as she channels her current influence, Radiohead. As Nuna told W, "We’re sitting here, living, because our grandparents were able to survive."
"She fell in love with the lifestyle of a pop star," pH-1 raps in "Yuppie Ting," the third track off his 2021 album But For Now Leave Me Alone. As he boasts of the Louis Vuitton he wears and the Michelin star meals he eats, pH-1 alternates between rapping in Korean and English with impressive precision, his flow skating over BlackDoe’s garage-inspired production.
Behind the scenes, pH-1 has felt more torn between the Korean and Western music industries than his music lets on. Even Jay Park, who has followed pH-1 since he moved to Korean and competed on rap talent show "Show Me the Money," once told him to write more in Korean. But for pH-1, to write exclusively in Korean would be to deny his Stateside upbringing in Long Island and Boston, and how he, like so many Korean Americans, naturally alternate between Korean and English in conversation.
"If I want to ‘financially succeed’ in Korea, I would have to make a song that’s very Korean-style. But that’s not me," pH-1 said to fellow artist Eric Nam in 2019. Instead, the more glittering spots of But For Now Leave Me Alone showcase pH-1 to be the experienced globetrotter he is.
In Bad Rap, Rekstizzy films a music video where, at a cookout, he squeezes picnic condiments not onto hot dogs, but the backsides of dancing Black women — for a song called "God Bless America." In his larger quest to become the "Korean rapper" he dreamed of in elementary school, he figured that outrageously offensive visuals were a must." "Whatever we do, people are gonna talk shit about us ‘cause we’re Asian," he says in the documentary.
Straddling the Asian and American aspects of one’s identity can seem impossible. But now, years after Bad Rap and after guest appearances in Adventure Time and Beef, Rekstizzy seems to have figured out an ideal balance. Mostly, he doesn’t seem nearly as pressed over proving that he’s American.
His own pop culture references, crude as they may be ("May cop a lewd body pillow on Etsy"), speak volumes. His music’s debaucherous nature recalls a wide swath of U.S. regional rap styles, from the Bay Area ("요리 (Yori)"), to the Midwest ("Mal Do An Dweh") and Atlanta ("Hentai"). As for his attempts to rap entire verses in Korean for the first time, apparently the jokes write themselves. As he and Bad Rap co-star Dumbfoundead realized while recording "Mal Do An Dweh," their takes on Korean slang sound hopelessly out of date, because as the latter realized, "We communicate in Korean more with our parents than our friends who speak in Korean."
Spence Lee is the child of a first-generation Chinese American and a Vietnamese refugee. But for much of his earlier material, his ethnic origins were hard to discern on record alone.
Spence Lee’s previous moniker, Shotta Spence, honored the "Dirty Jersey" that raised him — more specifically, the Caribbean supporters he gained before he relocated to New York, modeled for Yeezy, and gained producer Mike WiLL Made It as a mentor. That influence also appears all over his last full-length, 2019’s 1012; on songs like "Bounce," his cadence is equally inspired by reggae and trap.
Spence still shouts out how he came up with "shottas" and "rastas" on the autobiographical single, 2022’s "On God," one of his first under a new moniker bearing his family name. But that fact makes up just one chapter in his larger journey to capturing both the attention of Mike WiLL and 88rising, who jointly released the single. Mike WiLL explained to Joysauce how he and 88rising founder Sean Miyashiro saw "how Spence could be the bridge for many cultures, being from Jersey \[and\] into fashion, understanding his history, having principles and morals."
But Spence perhaps puts his new direction best in "On God," when he raps, "I do all this s— for my mom."
TiaCorine (whose father is Black and Japanese, and whose mother is part of the Shoshone Nation) ends her 2022 breakout album, I Can’t Wait with a breakup anthem dedicated to the poor music exec who counted her out. In "You’re Fired," she raps to keep from crying and sounding completely helpless: "You never listen to my songs, I’m always doing something wrong."
Today, her sly single "FreakyT" has 21 million Spotify streams and a Latto remix, it’s impossible to imagine how the situation in "You’re Fired" must have played out in real life.
TiaCorine’s music is Southern rap by way of Hatsune Miku — and it makes perfect sense, in an age where streaming has turned both hip-hop and anime (two of her biggest influences) into Stateside juggernauts. Her music captures the zeitgeist, though it also comes from an authentic place: While her father played formative ‘80s and ‘90s hip-hop in his Range Rover, her mother blared pop-rock instead. "That goes into my music — of me, just being free. Me just being confident in myself," TiaCorine told Preme magazine. Thanks to that confidence, mainstream success not only seems possible, but inevitable.
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Photo: Courtesy of Henry Lau
Press Play: Henry Lau Shows Off His Musical Prowess With A Dynamic Performance Of "MOONLIGHT"
Genre-bending singer Henry Lau uses a loop station to perform his single "MOONLIGHT," incorporating the violin, cello and both electric and acoustic guitar.
With his single "MOONLIGHT," Henry Lau refuses to be burdened by his past relationships. Now, he's turning a new leaf, dancing carefree under the night sky, regardless of the negative emotions he might feel.
"I'm waking up in a daze, get it out of my face/ The sun is shining on every move that I make," the singer reveals in the second verse. "So, let's get to forgetting everything that went wrong/ Everybody here, we been crying too long/ We can dance about it to our favorite song."
In this episode of Press Play, Lau performs "MOONLIGHT" from a mansion rooftop during sunset. He constructs the entire song using a loop station, playing a violin, cello and electric and acoustic guitars — one of his signature performance techniques that prompted his nickname, "one-man band."
Lau released "MOONLIGHT" in January — marking his first single in two years — via Monster Entertainment, the label he founded alongside his brother Clinton. He released another single, "Real Love Still Exists," two months later; the track features Malaysian R&B singer Yuna.
Watch the video above to watch Henry Lau's impressive loop station performance of "MOONLIGHT," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Press Play.
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